Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SSA in Mizoram: Nomads, who?

By- Paritosh Chakma

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines “nomad” as “member of a tribe that wanders from place to place looking for pasture for its animals and having no fixed home”.

Recently there have been several reports in the media quoting unnamed Sarva Shiksa Abhiyan (SSA) Mizoram Mission officials who attributed the failure of the SSA in Mizoram to the Chakma and Bru communities who have been levelled as “nomadic tribes”.

The SSA has been functioning in Mizoram since 2000. But as of now at least 14,826 children aged between six and fourteen years, mostly belonging to minority communities Chakma and Bru, have been deprived of formal education. There has been no consistency in the official figure, however. Earlier in February 2008, SSA Mizoram officer on special duty Robert Romawia Royte stated that only 2,000 children were still out of school.

The reputed Press Trust of India has quoted unidentified SSA officials as saying:

“Majority of the children who are not attending schools belonged to Chakma and
Bru as the two communities are nomadic tribes. It is hard to bring their
children to schools due to their shifting from one village to another often.”

As per as I know this is the second instance in which SSA officials have unrepentantly blamed the Chakmas for the failure of the SSA to reach to the most vulnerable sections of society in Mizoram.

Way back in February 2008, Mr Robert Romawia Royte stated:

“About 2,000 children are believed to be still out of schools. They are from the
residual or the hardcore groups. They belong to the nomadic families of Chakmas along the Indo-Bangla border, migrants and religious sects who do not allow their children to study”

These are racist statements against the ethnic minorities in particular the Chakmas. The Chakmas condemn such racist statements in the strongest possible terms.

Instead of focusing more attention on the ways to educate the minorities, the SSA officials in Mizoram have been publicly calling the Chakmas “nomads” while justifying SSA’s inability to reach to the Chakmas. Such remarks can only emerge out of utter ignorance about the Chakmas and/or due to the personal prejudice against this community. If what they meant by calling the Chakmas “nomads” is their traditional practice of Jhum cultivation which requires shifting of the place of cultivation every year, I do not understand as to why Mizos also should not be called “nomads” as substantial number of Mizo population are also engaged in Jhum cultivation. The SSA officials should know that Jhum is increasingly being recognized in this civilized world as a form of agriculture, not a “nomadic” lifestyle of the tribals. But surprisingly, no official has ever dared to call the Mizo Jhum cultivators “nomads”. Why are two standards being applied to measure the success of the SSA in Mizoram?

Presently, the government of Mizoram is seeking Rs 2,500 crore grant from the Central government to weed out jhum cultivation and provide sustainable livelihoods to the people. If only the Chakmas and Brus are officially nomads, then a major portion of this Central assistance should go to them. But I know that would never happen.

It is true that the SSA Mission has failed in Mizoram among the minorities. But the failure of the SSA among the Chakmas has nothing to do with whether the Chakmas are nomads or not. Substantial number in both Chakma and Mizo communities are engaged in Jhum cultivation but no SSA official has explained why the education mission has reached all the Mizos but not the Chakmas or the Brus. It is because Jhum cultivation has little to do with the successes or failures of the SSA mission in Mizoram. Contrary to the general notion, the Jhum cultivation does not require the tribal people to shift their habitations from place to place each year. They go to cultivate their jhum fields for some months of the year but basically they remain rooted to their houses in their respective villages. Often, the children were allowed to stay home. The government must come up with lucrative incentives in some cases to encourage the children to attend school. Simply putting the blame on the victims does not help.

But the reality of SSA Mizoram is completely different on the ground. The SSA has become a breeding ground for rampant discrimination and injustice against the Chakmas in Mizoram! The Mizoram SSA Mission’s slogan is “Mi Tin Tana Zirna Leh Hmasawnna” which means “Education and Development for All”. But it seems that “all” does not include the Chakmas. The functioning and administration of SSA in Chakma areas has been frustrating, to say the least.

Let me summarize some of the most important points below:

1. The SSA has been used just as a job vending machine in Mizoram. Non-local Mizo teachers have been appointed in Chakma areas although they can neither speak the Chakma tongue nor understand the cultural sensibilities of the local population. Given that the Chakma children do not understand Mizo tongue, such appointment of non-local Mizos to teach the Chakma children is merely waste of the tax payers’ money.

2. There is neither accountability nor transparency in some of the appointments as according to norms locals must be given preference and the appointment should be cleared by the Village Education Committee, usually headed by the elected head of the village.

3. It is seen that most of the Mizo teachers appointed in Chakma areas often do not attend classes. Some of them even do not live in the villages as they are non locals.

4. Several non-local Mizo teachers have taken transfer, leaving the schools with only single teacher (usually Chakma) to teach students numbering above 60.

It is high time the SSA Mizoram stopped blaming the socalled “nomadic” nature of the minorities, which is a fallacy of its own creation, but did enough to take some corrective measures to make the elementary education mission more inclusive on the basis of equality and non-discrimination.

* * * *

Read SSA in Mizoram: Nomads, who? in Merinews.com, http://www.merinews.com/article/ssa-in-mizoram-nomads-who/15785274.shtml

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Twitter Controversy Involving Shashi Tharoor

By Paritosh Chakma

All of a sudden there is a mad rush among the (Congress party) politicians to prove themselves "austere" to win the hearts of the aam admi , i.e. the electorate. After, Sonia Gandhi travelled in economy class and her son Rahul took the Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi Express, everybody wanted to turn austere to please the Congress boss. So much so that Union Minister Salman Khurshid had to issue a warning that “vulgar display” of austerity should be discouraged. Mr Khurshid argued that "Austerity is something intrinsic and very personal".

There is however some mismatch. For example, Rahul Gandhi reportedly told reporters, "As a politician, you have a duty to be austere,” but his visit to Tamil Nadu to strengthen the Youth Congress cost Rs 1 crore from Congress' purse. No matter, who is paying the money.

Even Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs has claimed that he was paying from his own pocket, not taxpayers' money, for staying in 5-star hotel but was ordered to leave by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and shift to State Guest House.

Recent tweets in social networking site "Twitter.Com" however invited trouble for Mr Tharoor, a novice in politics after he tweetted - "absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!", in reply to a query whether he was ready to travel "cattle class". He was reprimanded by the Congress party, and Rajasthan CM went further ahead to demand his resignation. Luckily for Mr Tharoor, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the minister's remark was "a joke", and should not be taken seriously.

On his part, Mr Tharoor clarified that "cattle class" is "a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy travellers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle" and said sorry for the misunderstanding. He told another important thing: people do not have humour to accept humour. So, what is the fuss about calling economy class a "cattle class". The Gandhis may be travelling in economy class or boarding a train now to emulate the experiences of the common man, but how long? They will never be common men - "aam admi". I hope they also realized that there exist something called "sleeping class" in train and ordinary people do not travel with heavy security around them. Politicians enjoying z-security should never travel in train or on the road. This only leads to chaos and creates untold problems for the citizenry. They are heavenly people - austerity is not meant for them. As I understand, politicians are more hurt by Mr Tharoors observation because he stingingly refered to the "holy cows" which the majority politicians see they are. But Mr Tharoor clarified, "holy cows are NOT individuals but sacrosanct issues or principles that no one dares challenge".

Another truth that emerges from the present controversy is that "indeed, we lack humour". While not many politicians are net-savvy, poor Shashi will continue to bear the brunt for his tweets. But Shashi must also realize there are millions across the globe who are behind him. I am one of them.

Breaking the impasse

By - Suhas Chakma
The Kathmandu Post, Nepal, 18 Sept, 2009, http://www.kantipuronline.com/tkp/news/news-detail.php?news_id=338


September 18 - India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao received a lukewarm response on her two day visit to Nepal on Sept. 15-16. She met the very same officials whom she met in New Delhi about a month ago. In addition she met President Ram Baran Yadav and Chief of the Army Staff Chhatraman Singh Gurung. The missing link was the Maoist leader Prachanda who conspicuously left for Hong Kong clearly to avoid a meeting.

So was the reason behind Foreign Secretary Rao’s rapid reciprocal visit to Kathmandu to re-announce the package announced in Delhi only about a month ago?

Nothing has changed since the visit of Nepal’s prime minister to Delhi. The stalemate and its consequences are still firmly in place: political polarisation deepens; the peace process continues to run dangerously off course; splits in the larger parties are ever more evident; the country is in ever deeper chaos and the security situation continues to deteriorate. Most seriously there are still two highly politicised armies in the country, not to mention the dangerous proliferation of ever more armed groups.Most speculate that Rao’s mission was to buttress Madhav Nepal. But Indian influence has its limits and the visit is unlikely to do much more than delay the inevitable end of this lame duck government.

India’s support for this government appears mostly aimed at denying Nepal’s Maoists a share in power. This position seems linked to rising domestic Indian alarm over Naxalis. Home Minister P Chidambaram in his address to the conference of the India’s State police chiefs on Sept. 14 in New Delhi stated that the Naxalism has affected 2000 police stations in 223 districts of 13 States of India. At the same meeting, National Security Advisor M K Narayan expressed concerns about Maoist resurgence in Nepal.

India is right to be concerned about the failure of the Nepal Maoists to end violence. But this does not necessarily add up to the shrill arguments about Maoist takeover and havens for Indian Naxalism that find favour at the Embassy; and appear to be transmitted verbatim to South Block. India’s most senior Nepal expert, SD Muni has indelicately described the ideas of insurrection as: “bullshit”.

If security is the end goal of Indian policy then India has to realise — whether it likes it or not — that inclusion of Nepal’s Maoists in government is central to a stable and secure Nepal. All the main parties have demonstrated that if they are not included they can make life impossible for the government. There is no solution to the stalemate in Nepal without the Maoists, just as there is no solution without including the Nepali Congress. India’s current position of maintaining the stalemate adds to insecurity: it is not in India security interests.

More broadly, India’s policy on Nepal simply does not add up. India claims to support the peace process. Yet India provides public support to the Nepal Army and its supporters who vehemently oppose integration of the Maoist army. Integration (albeit undefined) is a central part of the peace process.The consequences of this one sided policy are that they allow the Army and its right wing political supporters an effective destabilizing veto over the peace process. It will and is catalysing a Maoist reaction of increased protest and the very real threat of increased violence which could spiral. It prevents resolution of the peace process and provides momentum to the armed groups in the absence of security reform. It further adds momentum to the damaging process of polarisation that empowers those who favour extreme “solutions” and conflict at the expense of consensus politics. In these circumstances increased insecurity on India’s borders is inevitable.

Similarly, India must realise that a legitimate constitutional drafting process requires Maoist participation; they are the largest political party in the constituent assembly. Why would the Maoists soften their position as long as they are denied access to power?

The Maoists on their part must recognise India’s needs. It is a matter of common sense. Prachanda may act as the rabble-rouser to maintain equidistance from China and India but the fact remains India has unmatched leverage.

Nepal is landlocked by India. Nepal can get financial support from China but it is simply not possible to bring gasoline and food supplies for 27 million Nepali people by air. To bring Nepal to a standstill all India needs to do is to put two police constables respectively at the Mahendra Nagar side and the Kakarbitta side along the Indo-Nepal border to strangle Nepal.

Maoist anger against Indian interference cannot be addressed by attacking Indian priests at Pashupati Nath temple. It is one matter to demand the ouster of the Indian priest, it is another matter to strip and assault them. The Maoists may deny their involvement but it is an open secret that they were behind the attacks.

Nepal’s stalemate is a serious political issue with wide ranging consequences for India. The policy should be addressed by India’s politicians and not left to bureaucrats. It requires the engagement of political leaders. The absence of an Indian political party with leverage on the government of India and an interest in Nepal is a handicap. The CPI (M) which had an interest in Nepal affairs has no leverage on the current UPA government. The political parties in Bihar and UP across the spectrum have no interest on Nepal.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights believes that a first step to a more positive Indian role would be to appoint a political leader to play a role — similar to that played previously by Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) — as an envoy to break the impasse in Nepal. Yechury was instrumental not only in the negotiations between the Maoists and seven party alliance but also amongst the Maoists.

Such an envoy should provide political support for a national unity government and provide support to the parties to sign a new agreement to clarify areas of current disagreement and develop mechanisms to address the disagreements and bring the peace process on track.

If such an agreement could indeed be reached, India’s Prime Minister must visit Nepal. Policies announced by Foreign Secretary Rao will have meaning in such a situation. No Prime Minister of India has visited Nepal since then Prime Minister I K Gujaral in 1997. The first foreign visits undertaken by India’s Foreign Minister Mr S M Krishna and Home Minister P. Chidambaram were to Bhutan in, respectively, June and August of this year. Earlier, in May 2008, India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had also visited that country.

India claims to be a super power. But, it must also act responsibly and transparently. It must look beyond retired foreign secretaries while appointing envoys to Nepal. Many of the Indian political leaders share excellent rapport with the Nepalese political leaders and that should be utilised. A stable Nepal is very much in India’s national interest.

(The writer is Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights)

Read more on Nepal:

- Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR)'s Briefing Paper - Madhes: The challenges and opportunities for a stable Nepal, 19 Sept, 2009

- ACHR's Briefing Paper- Nepal and the Pax Indianus, 14 July 2009

More articles by Suhas Chakma:

- Enforce the law in North-East by Suhas Chakma, The Tribune, India, 19 August 2009, http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090819/edit.htm#7

- Need for a policy for the displaced people by Suhas Chakma, The Tribune, India, 1 Jan., 2006, http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060101/edit.htm#1

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rain water harvesting in the North-eastern India- with special reference to Mizoram

By - Dr. M.P. Mishra

[I have found this article very interesting and relevant, and have therefore reproduced here. The source is as below: http://www.ecosensorium.org/2009/09/rain-water-harvesting-in-north-eastern.html]

Mizoram is one of the smallest states in the north-eastern India having an area of only 21,000 sq. Km. It is located in the extreme North East of India bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh. The state is entirely mountainous covered with lush green vegetation. The mountains range in a North - South direction and the rivers flow in either a North or South direction. The highest peak namely Blue Mountain is only 7100 feet high and the climate of Mizoram is moderate. Towns and villages in Mizoram are mostly located on hilltops or on the upper reaches of the hills. Since perennial streams and rivers are located much below the habitations, scarcity of water in the dry season is very common. The whole state enjoys abundant monsoon rainfall during the rainy season extending five or six months in a year.

Springs on the hill slope and valleys are the main water supply sources in the villages. In the dry period the yield from springs gets reduced drastically. During the worst dry periods one has to wait long hours to obtain just a bucketful of water from the spring sources. Spring water supplemented by rainwater harvesting still remains today, the main means of water supply in many villages and outskirts of towns.

Through their skill and experience, the people living in hills and mountains of North-eastern India have developed a number of novel practices of farming, checking soil erosion, preventing landslides, and yes – of conserving water. Cropping in terraces along hill slopes is an age-old practice developed by tribal people. Tribals of Mizoram and Nagaland are expert in cutting beautiful terraces along mountain slopes. This system of cropping is beneficial in retaining fertility of soil; preventing land slides and checking soil erosion. Secondly, it is helpful in retaining the moisture of soil and conserving water, also. How are the terraced fields irrigated? Well, here is the answer.

Tribal people in the north-eastern India are expert in cutting beautiful terraces on hill slopes
The terraced fields are irrigated by a network of water- channels of bamboos that reach to every field. The terraces are graduated in so nice and scientific ways that water flows conveniently through the bamboo channels and irrigates the crop fields. Sometimes holes are made in the bamboo-pipes that facilitate the flow of water in drips. Thus the water is saved against any wastage during the process of irrigation. This system of irrigation is called as “Bamboo-drip Irrigation System”.

The loss of forests and less density of trees in certain regions has altered the pattern of rainfall in some districts of the North –eastern India including Mizoram and Nagaland. The water cycle in these regions has badly been altered and the sources of water have become inefficient. With the skill and experience, the people of these areas have developed a novel method of rain water harvesting and water conservation which is called as Zabo System of Rain water Harvesting.

The word “Zabo” means – impounding of water. The indigenous system of conservation of rain water in Mizoram and Nagaland, through which water is collected and stored in ponds for irrigation and other purposes, is called as the Zabo system of water conservation. The harvesting of water through this system is done by collecting rain water in catchments along mountain slopes. A Pond is dug to store water of the catchment area and all the water flowing down through terraces is facilitated to accumulate into it. The water thus accumulated in ponds is used for various purposes including irrigation. The Government of Mizoram has started a number of projects of water conservation. Rainwater harvesting and spring developments were taken up as a Government Programme. The Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission, aiming at providing drinking water to every person, sanctioned a substantial fund for rooftop rainwater harvesting tanks. As many as 198 villages in Mizoram have benefited from the scheme.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The border fencing conundrum in Mizoram

- The insensitivity of the Mizoram government is deplorable -

By Paritosh Chakma

The Chakma tribals in Mizoram are in awkward situation, thanks to the ongoing border fencing along the Mizoram-Bangladesh border. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Annual Report 2008-2009, fencing of 150.15 km stretch out of the total 352.33 km sanctioned in Mizoram has been completed.

As many as 35,438 Chakmas from 5790 families in 49 villages, i.e. 49.7% of the total Chakma population, will be displaced. Their land, homestead, garden and forests have been acquired by the state government of Mizoram under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. In all land acquisitions across the country, the State has always employed arbitrary methods. Notably, the Mizoram government through its gazette notification issued on 27th October 2006 (Issue No. 272) under the Land Acquisition Act had warned that “All persons interested in the said land are hereby warned not to obstruct or interfere with any Surveyor or other persons employed upon the said land for the purpose of the said acquisition” (Clause 3 of the notification).

Protests by the Chakmas can be dealt with firmly on the ground of “obstruction” or “inference” by the protestors to the fencing activities. This takes away the democratic right to protest peacefully against injustice, if any. Of course, there have been lots of injustices.

The victims have been alleging discrimination in payment of compensation. While some have only received in thousands (below 1 lakh), some others have managed to get as high as thirty lakhs or a few even above. How these people got so high whereas some got extremely low has not been explained. Yet, some have informed me that they have not got any compensation despite losing their fertile lands or gardens. One of my friends told me his name was okeyed by the surveyors and he did produce his land document but he came to know from insiders that his name is missing from the final list of beneficiaries. He is contemplating legal action and I support him very much. This means that there is simply no iota of transparency, openness and fairness in the delivery of compensations. Often, in such environment there is high chance of corruption among officials and others. And, Lal Thanhawla administration which has promised clean and good governance must take notice of this.

As for the prospect of resettlement and rehabilitation there is complete darkness. The fencing affected people who are really innocent and ignorant about the affairs of the state (displacement is new phenomenon to them) keep on asking me on the phone whether I came to know anything from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi about R & R. The state government of Mizoram has never cared to assuage their feelings of insecurity or alienation. In fact, district level officials have been suggesting that there may not be any R&R and the victims will have to rebuild their lives with the compensation money they have been provided. This struck fear in the hearts of the Chakma victims as majority of them have consumed up their compensation money, and they have now been living in penury.(To know more in this regard, read another report: Let the Chakmas live in peace; give them the respect they deserve )

In comparison, other state governments are better. At least they think the people who are affected by the border fencing are their own. The state government of Meghalaya had even suspended the fencing works in response to the protests from the victims and this provided itself and officials of Border Management to investigate the grievances expressed by the affected people. Nothing of that sort has happened in Mizoram. On 1 September 2009, Tripura Chief Minister gave an assurance in the State Assembly that all the displaced families (7,997 families) will be provided proper rehabilitation in the state (The Sentinel, 3 September 2009). He was replying to a query by an opposition Congress MLA. Compare this with the position adopted by the Mizoram Home Department with regard to the Chakmas: “It may be mentioned that those families placed on the other side of the Fencing Line may not be called 'displaced' since the Fencing Line is not the boundary of Indo-Bangia Border.” How funny! Does the Mizoram government trying to say that the fencing affected people will not be provided any rehabilitation?

Such insensitivity on the part of the Mizoram government is highly deplorable. Although about half of the Chakmas in Mizoram will be displaced, Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, or his predecessor Zoramthanga of MNF,  has never made any policy statement in the House or elsewhere. No peoples’ representative including the two Chakma MLAs in the House has raised any concern for the would-be displaced Chakmas. Instead the Chakmas have been kept guessing in the dark.

* * * * * *
To know more about the situation of Chakmas in Mizoram, please read "Mizoram: Minority Report" by Paritosh Chakma, The Economic & Political Weekly, 6 June 2009 Issue

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Memories on Teachers’ Day

By Paritosh Chakma

I completed my High School studies from Udalguri, a small picturesque town in Assam. Then it was an underdeveloped sub-division under Darrang district, but now it is the proud headquarters of Udalguri district under the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District Council. It is believed that the name Udalguri derived from a tree “Odal”.

There were three English medium schools then: Ramswaroop Agarwalla Memorial English School, Sacred Heart and Diamond English School. I studied in the school with the longest name.

I was considered a bright student, which I don’t think I was. The teachers loved me because I toppled a seemingly invincible student (who used to always come first in the class since Class I) in the first Annual Examination I faced in the school. I believe the teachers were happy to see the change in the hierarchy within the classroom, and because they wanted some competitions to happen.

But except the school principle, none could actually understand why and how a student from Mizoram, where they believed people earned a lot for a comfortable living, had to come to study in a small town. Even my friends thought my parents were rich enough. That was because very few affluent families of Udalguri could send their children to study in Guwahati or other towns. But that was not the case in my case. My parents found the school in Udalguri because they could not afford my education in Aizawl or Shillong or Guwahati. Yet, I had no regrets. I was too happy to go to school, an opportunity which hundreds of children of my age in my community did not get. Because, either they were poorer than me or not as lucky as I was.

Prafulla Basumatary, the school principal, knew my problems and took great care of me. He was a gentle human being with a smiling face. He was my best teacher. He loved me, and I think he had a special corner in his heart for me. He even invited me for dinners or sometimes, I went uninvited and spent the nights at his house. Even his wife, a teacher herself in another school, was kind to me. I ate meal, watched TV and used their bathroom like I did in my own house, about 800 kms away in a tiny village in Mizoram.

Prafulla sir always encouraged us to study hard and excel in co-curricular activities. He encouraged us to subscribe to the Cub Club of the Sanctuary Asia magazine, made us read Tinkle comics and participate in quiz competitions. I used to write poems and many of them got regularly published in the Times Club, a children magazine that came with the North East Times every Saturday (if I remembered clearly). I was once the editor of the school’s wall magazine which I and my friends named it “The Dawn”. In Class X, I was selected the President of Students Association of the school. It was done by selection. I remember my class lady teacher proposed my name and none objected. I gave an emotional speech after my appointment. But I was never a great speaker.

I have several other indelible memories – both pleasant and unpleasant ones. Once I had to steal for the sake of education. That was the time when I had no money to buy notebooks to do sums. After playing football in the school ground, I saw some old notebooks stored in the store room. Those were attacked by fungi and the school book-stall had to reject them. So, I was tempted to conceal a few of them into my shirt behind and I brought them home. Those were small in size and the pages were lined. I cleaned them and one I used as rough copy and another one to do sums in the classroom. I used the other one to do my home-work. But our Maths teacher was not happy. He ordered me to do the homework in a good quality exercise book having no lines, and whose breath is longer than the length. I didn’t have money to buy them but I said “OK sir”. Next day, again he asked but did never understand my problem.

Prafulla sir, however did. Once in the winter he took me to the market and bought a sweater for me. As I tried the sweater on me, he exclaimed, “There you are; you are looking very smart now”. I shyly smiled back and he asked the shopkeeper to pack the sweater for me.

One of my best friends was Uttambir Basumatary, now a lecturer in a college. He liked quiz competitions very much, and cultural shows. Once in a Bodo cultural programme, he did not have friends to participate in a quiz competition on Bodo cinema and culture. He took me and another friend though we knew nothing about Bodo films, songs or singers. But he gave us some quick updates. We three enlisted our names before the panel. To everybody’s surprise our team won at last. In fact, I answered two of the questions on Bodo films.

Prafulla sir’s wife Ms Basumatary was a lovely lady. I was the only outstation student in the school at that time and received money from home by MO. My father used to send the MO to Prafulla sir’s home address. But that year one Manipuri boy also got admitted in the school hostel and his father happened to send an MO. When the postman came to deliver the MO, Ms Basumatary even did not look the recipient’s name to confirm. Thinking it was my money (Rs 3,000) he gave it to me. After one month or so, the angry father of the Manipuri boy filed a complaint. Then, the mistake was realized but by that time I had consumed up the money. But Prafulla sir never asked me to repay; he paid from his own pocked to the boy. I still owe him the money.

That was over a decade now. But I haven’t forgotten good hearted Prafulla sir. He is a real inspiration for me and shaped my philosophy of life to a large extent. I aspire to become an IAS officer one day and help the masses, particularly living in rural areas without the basic facilities. Then, I hope to pay back to my teacher Rs 3000. No, I won’t pay any interest to him. Neither will he ever ask for any.

Nepal’s language imbroglio

By - Suhas Chakma, Director, Asian Centre for Human Rights

Nepal’s Vice President (VP), Paramananda Jha’s decision to take his oath of office in Hindi was greeted with near apoplexy by the political establishment in Kathmandu. The Supreme Court (SC) of Nepal instructed the VP to retake the oath in Nepali by 4 p.m. on Aug. 30 2009. VP Jha has refused to take fresh oath. Nepal is in a major political and constitutional crisis.

Speaking as a member of an indigenous group — the Chakmas — and as someone who has spent a lifetime defending minorities and indigenous communities, I find much of the argument very familiar. The undertone of the debate in Kathmandu seems clearly premised on a fixed idea of what is, and what is not Nepali. This sits on the exclusionary idea that Hindi is an Indian language and all that infers about many people of the Tarai.

Read the full article: Nepal's Language Imbroglio, The Kathmandu Post, 3 September 2009

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Friday, September 4, 2009

An Act to provide free and compulsory elementary education: A boon for neglected communities in Mizoram

By Paritosh Chakma

On 26 August 2009, the United Progressive Alliance government notified the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009. This Act provides free and compulsory elementary education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years. By “elementary education” means “the education from first class to eighth class”, i.e. upto Middle School level.

Across India this Act is being hailed as historic. Certainly, I do see this Act as a means for thousands of children to receive education in Mizoram, in particular in the remote rural areas where the government of Mizoram has so far refused to establish schools. Now no longer. Under this Act, the state government is duty bound to establish schools wherever there aren’t any. Section 6 states:
“For carrying out the provisions of this Act, the appropriate Government and the local authority shall establish, within such area or limits of neighbourhood, as may be prescribed, a school, where it is not so established, within a period of three years from the commencement of this Act.”
The message is loud and clear. The state government of Mizoram can’t any longer shy away from its responsibility of providing basic education to each and every child – irrespective of whichever area they live and whichever community they belong to.

Mizoram government has refused to establish schools:
The state government of Mizoram has refused to establish schools in remote areas. This is more true in the Chakma-dominated Sajek Valley areas along the Mizoram-Bangladesh borders. So far, the rule has been that the villagers first open a school (primary, middle or high school) and successfully run with public donations for years. Even to establish schools the public need prior permission from the government.

The villagers who are extremely poor face tremendous problems to fund the school and to pay salaries to the teachers. Poor salaries do not attract bright people into the teaching job. As a result, the schools are not properly run and the quality of education remains low. Yet, it takes years before the state government comes to the rescue and provides aid to the schools. It is ironic that the State should expect the poor villagers to fund education up to high school or above. But this is exactly what is happening in Mizoram.

Thanks to the Central funds flowing under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the Mizoram government has established primary schools in almost every Chakma habitations and some Middle Schools too. But many villagers are still without Middle Schools. The question is where are the children expected to go after passing the primary level? And where will they after completion of Middle School level go as there is no High School in their villages or nearby?

Does Mizoram govt lack determination and efforts?
In August 2009, the Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar declared that Tripura will be fully literate by September 2010. Does it mean Tripura will overtake Mizoram within a year? I don’t think Tripura can achieve this feat given that in the 2001 census Tripura with 73.66 per cent literacy rate was far behind Mizoram which clocked 88.49 per cent. But if Mr Sarkar is to be believed, the Tripura government is making an “all out efforts” to achieve cent percent literacy rate. I admire his courage and determination. Unfortunately, I have never heard from a Mizo Chief Minister making this vow to himself before the public. The one advantage Mizoram has is the Church which has been instrumental in promotion of education. Otherwise, the Mizoram government seems to lack enthusiasm and determination on education front although it recently set up a Education Reforms Commission.

What about the ethnic minorities? Of course, they have never been in the state government's education agenda. The minorities in Mizoram have not been inspired or given sufficient attention by the state government. Instead, a particular SSA Mizoram official has even come out to publicly call the Chakmas as "Nomads" while justifying SSA’s inability to reach to the Chakmas. By calling the Chakmas “nomads” may be he was trying explain that the Chakmas practice Jhum cultivation which required people to station at their Jhum field for a few months of the year. Contrary to the general notion, the Jhum cultivation does not require the tribal people to shift their habitations from place to place each year. They remain rooted to their houses in their respective villages but go to work in their Jhum fields. Often, the children were allowed to stay home and the government can provide lucrative incentives to encourage them to attend school. Of course, some problems do arise as their parents are required to station in the Jhum away from home for a few months during sowing and harvesting times; but that does not mean their children remain inaccessible. The statement of the SSA official was uncalled for as it is not Chakmas alone. Even substantial number of Mizo population in rural areas is also engaged in Jhum cultivation, yet they have been provided access to basic education and they have not been called "nomads". To know more about how Chakmas are discriminated by SSA Mission, read SSA Mission in Mizoram: Mission to educate or discriminate against the Chakmas?

What I am trying to say here is the state government of Mizoram has never tried to find out the reasons for the social-economic backwardness of the Chakmas to solve these problems. Putting the blame on the victims does not help. Also, it does not explain the reasons as to why the state government is unwilling to establish schools in Chakma villages. Why the Chakmas are left to be uneducated and jobless?

Total enrolment is not sufficient:
The government of Mizoram started implementing the SSA during the financial year 2000-2001. In February 2008, the then Education Minister Dr R Lalthangliana declared that Mizoram has “almost achieved total enrollment in primary education”.

However, mere “total enrollment” is not sufficient. The state government must provide quality education at least up to High School level to all the children. The Chakmas have been denied secondary education. Higher secondary or college level education is a far off thing. Higher education for the Chakmas of Mizoram is like the moon – it appears so near, yet far and unreachable.

The 86th Amendment of Constitution of India (2002) has already made “free and compulsory education” to all children of the age group of six to fourteen years a Fundamental Right. But it did not provide sufficient enough to encourage the state governments to take up education missions. This country needs law even to enforce a habit of wearing helmet for the protection of one’s life in case of any accident while driving a motorcycle. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009 has sought to do the same thing in education field.

The Act has provided some norms and standards for the schools to follow and the authorities will have to ensure that standards. This is important as schools in rural areas are only in the name. They exist without basic infrastructure and facilities.

Another significant provision is relating to the filling up vacancies of teachers. I have observed that in Chakma areas, once the teachers retire or are transferred the vacancies are never filled up. As a result, in some primary schools there are only one or two teachers left to teach students who number is over a hundred in a single school of the villlage. The Act provides that the there should be at least two teachers for sixty students in primary school and in Middle School (sixth class to eight class), there should be at least one teacher per class and at least one teacher for every 35 students.

Now, armed with an Act the citizens of this country, including the Chakmas in Mizoram will of course demand their fundamental right to free and compulsory education and enforce the Fundamental Right to Constitutional Remedies to secure their rights if necessary.